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A lunatic moon

Chapter 4

By Jim E. BeerPublished 3 months ago Updated 16 days ago 27 min read

Chapter 4 - Jean's story and Fever Dreams

Inside the house Jean Duhamel was furious. He took an old hubcap from his kitchen table that he used as an ashtray and hurled it at the wall. It met with such force that the hubcap almost bent in two. A storm of cigarette butts sprayed against the grimy window. He was angry that the cops had been here nosing around, sure, but he was even angrier that the kid had been spying on him. Jean knew exactly who it was, the kid who'd approached his house asking questions about the boy he'd killed at the last turning. His friend he had said. That was why he'd been meddlesome. Acting impertinent. Cocksure and arrogant. He'd been hiding at the edge of the field this time, just before the police had arrived. The brat had been crouched in the weeds so sure of himself that Jean could not see him. Something about the boy worried him, a rare feeling which just infuriated him that much more. He'd never been accustomed to worry or fear, not since that day in the French woods long ago. Something about this boy nagged at him though. He didn't think he'd stayed long, he hadn't sensed him during the cop's questioning. Afterwards, when the police car had left his driveway, Jean had looked for him too, combing the field with his mind and eyes, sensing every cricket, mouse, slug and butterfly along the sweep, but no boy. No boy. Jean, or Ugly and Old had that effect on people. They didn't like to linger long in his presence and his fury temporarily forgotten, he smiled at the thought. It was something he had mastered over the years. Drawing on people's basic survival instincts, exploited their natural fear of him in other ways to ensure that every visit, every conversation and interaction would be brief. Unless, of course, he wanted it to be otherwise. He rarely bathed and never laundered his clothes and therefore smelled bad, really bad. He practiced no dental hygiene, didn't need to. So not only did his breath carry the odor of death and decay, his teeth looked bad. During regular days and nights of each calendar month, his teeth gleamed nicotine yellow, black at the roots. During his turnings, those teeth extended into long, sharp serrated blades and appeared silvery in the light of the full moons. His clothing had the appearance of filthy rags and with dirty cap pulled down to help hide his eyes he very easily passed for a poor old man. People immediately felt pity for him. The majority of people don't stray far from their virtuous feelings and rarely have the courage to approach and engage. They really don't want to know. They have their own lives. Jobs, kids, bills, husbands and wives. They had their own elederly to care for. The frail and weak. Sick, diseased and dying. They all did. They all died too. So why bother with another pathetic old man? Those who had the courage and seemingly rare ability for genuine compassion and empathy would offer help at first. Assistance and aid, neighbourly, brotherly love... A few seconds in his immediate vicinity though and oh how quickly everything would change. His body odour alone was so offputting, the intensity of his aura, of desperation and danger. People could feel it deep down in the primitive part of their brain. Every animal has survival instincts and human beings are no different. They knew right away that something was wrong with Jean Duhamel. They didn't know what. They couldn't even begin to imagine what was wrong with him, but something was. Something so dark and sinister...and ancient. Something that killed, that had a need to kill, but itself could NOT be a killed. A vicious horror that had existed for so long it had reached mythical proportions at some point in history, was forgotten and then vaguely remembered, like a fever dream. A nightmare that made little sense. Remembered and forgotten over and over, so many times that it existed only in fairytales, fables and myths. Legend and lore, so seemingly fictitious that it was no longer believed to even be possible. Something their modern brain could not readily identify, but the primitive brain could in an instant. His countenance could turn threatening at the flick of a switch. He could go from looking like a harmless, feeble, little old guy, to a seething monster of deafening proportions...all in their mind's eye...and all at the drop of a hat. No, people chose not to stay with Jean for very long. They certainly didn't want to engage him, unless absolutely neccessary and then only for the shortest time possible. This was fine with Jean. Exactly how he'd always wanted it. He wanted to be forgotten. Certainly not remembered and hopefully, seldom noticed.

Thousands of months had come and gone, leaving wreckage and ruined families in their wake. At first, Jean had been so careful. He'd known shortly after being gutted by the beast in the clearing that day, long ago in France. He'd taken a wound that many men would have died from. Medical knowledge was rare in the smaller towns, but Jean had been lucky. There had been an old lady that practiced medicine. Her and her location had been shielded from common knowledge, primarily the Church, by the townsfolk, for fear of losing her to a witch hunt. She knew how to stitch people up and close wounds, she knew how to cure sicknesses that cause fever and ease infections, by using plants and herbs from the lush forests and meadows around the Cevennes. She'd help birth more than half the children of Gevaudin, she was valuable to them. She had saved Jean's life early that morning after the King's guard had burst into the clearing while hunting the 'Beast'. As Captain of the guard and a well known hunter in those parts he had value too, so they saved him, rather than choosing to simply leave him bleeding out on the ground. In all truth they did this not because it was the right thing to do, but because many among the guard were too afraid to pursue the beast any deeper into the dark foreboding forest at the base of the mountains. Each man had envisioned his death long before their hectic race into the foothills. They all, townsfolk and King's guard alike, had been alerted by the mournful howling echoing through the mist shrouded trees that night just before dawn. At the rally point in the town's square they had gathered, with their armour clanking under torchlight. Their horses were nervous and restless, stomping their hooves and champing at their iron bits. Creaking leather and breathless snorts filled the chilled night air, while the leader laid out the plan between howls. Each howl pierced deeply into the soul of each and every knight. One by one they saw their individual deaths. Nothing specific, just a rending of limbs and great gouts of blood, armour stained red, leather harness shredded from the corpses of their steeds. They saw this clearly in their minds, as if through a window into their future and they were terrified. This hastily gathered team was essentially a combination rescue and ambush. Their Captain, Jean Duhamel, Captain of the King's guard had gone alone with an apprentice in search of the beast. They knew roughly where he would be, following the river uphill into the forest where the monster roamed, howling ceaselessly. They planned to charge to his aid and help slaughter the creature that had been plaguing Gevaudin for an entire year. At the same time they hoped this would spare his life and the life of the boy he had put at risk. Instead they arrived seconds too late and could only stare in horror at the grisly tableaux which lay before them. Poor Francois' body lay on the ground, sodden with steaming blood. The fire of his youth, slowly drifting away in the cold morning air. His head lay separate, several feet away, facing the woods, as if still searching for a glimpse of the creature that had so quickly and thoughtlessly killed him. Captain Jean knelt on the ground clutching his belly with his chin on his chest, sobbing and gasping, whispering over and over, "Help me. Help me. Help me..." Some men quickly, but solemnly dismounted and fashioned a crude travois, upon which they gently lay their bleeding Captain. Carefully they pulled the travois back to town, while the moon sank in the sky, giving way to the first break of dawn. It was a painstaking process. Several times they had to clear branches from the path, that the horses easily cleared. Under direction of the townsfolk they carried him to the hut of the medicine woman with grave doubts that she would be able to do anything for him at all, he'd lost so much blood and was unconscious. She had though. She had received him on a broad wooden table, charging the fee of a plump bag of silver. As soon as she secretly stowed her purse of silver coins, which was quick as a wink. she approached her patient, critically assessing his wound. He was still breathing and although deathly pale, was strong enough to recover, so the hag nodded and then shooed them all away. The posse of knights and hunters reluctantly left him in her care. Their chainmail and armour creaking and clanking, as one by one they squeezed through the narrow doorway of her house. Under the glow of lamplight she clapped her hands together loudly three times. The sound was similar to the cracks of a whip. A crippled boy, mute and blind in one eye, quickly appeared. He gathered jars from the shelves and limping, swiftly put a kettle of water on the fire to boil. The medicine woman prepared herself and setting to work she washed her hands in a bitter smelling herbal astringent and carefully tucked the ropy coils of his intestines back into his body. She'd been cautious to remove dirt and pine needles first and cleansed the puckered skin around wound. Then with a wicked looking needle fashioned from a fish bone and a length of sinew that the crippled boy had softened in a bowl of boiled water, quickly stitched the folds of skin back together. It was an evil looking wound and she knew right away that it was infected. Not with bacteria, she'd seen to that in her extensive knowledge of cleansing herbs and powerful astringents. This wound was infected by a curse. Nothing that her assistant, nor her were in any harm from at the moment, but in one month's time the Captain of the guard would transform from the person that he'd been in his 27 years of life to a replica of the beast, loose in the woods. She had the power here and now to end it, to prevent an endless monthly cycle of murder and mayhem, simply by plunging the pure silver dagger she had on her hip through his heart, or if inclined she could simply decapitate Jean Duhamel. Removing his head from his body, even this early in the curse, was much harder than just driving the silver blade through his heart. Both remedies worked just as well as the other. This was not his fate though, she knew it lay elsewhere, far from here and far in the future. She also knew that the beast loose in the woods outside Gevaudin, would itself be dead soon. She was going to tell the King's guard how to do it. At a modest price of course. She was never at risk of the beast herself, she knew how to keep it away from her hut. It had no taste for her flesh anyhow, she was old and tough and bitter tasting and she held ancient knowledge and spells to keep it far from her and her boy. The beast craved young ones, especially maidens. She knew why too. They were sweet and tender, just as many of them appeared. Occasionally it ate the flesh of young men, but it had a preference for females. She had her own reasons for not disclosing the secrets of killing it sooner. She had patiently waited a year, 12 cycles of the moon and 15 victims, for the King and his Knights to develop a feverish hatred of the beast. She had also waited for the bounty to grow to 7,000 Lire. After salvaging the Captain of his guard, she would request an appearance in front of the King to negotiate her fee.

Jean recovered. Slowly at first, then quicker and quicker. Just as she had expected. The healing of his injury was practically miraculous. Within two weeks of that horrible morning he had left her hut under his own power. Whereupon he immediately declared to the Court of the King his self imposed exile from those lands. Never to return again. Before the next cycle arrived, the hag had negotiated her fee as half of the bounty from the killing of the beast. The King had agreed, as long as her method worked. And it had, it had worked like a charm. She had the royal blacksmith and weapons master construct three deadly lances, each tipped with pure silver points. At the next full moon horses and Knights in full battle armour, with torches flaring, had cornered the beast against a cliff wall in the foothills and had pierced it's heart with two of the three lances. They had been surprised too, not just that it worked as the hag had said it would, but because in the presence of the three silver tipped lances, the beast had seemed to resign itself to a quick death. As if it had been relieved, finally released from it's curse. They were even more shocked when the huge and horrible creature shrank and shrivelled before their very eyes, the last of it's blood draining onto the cold rocks surrounding the body. Where lay not the body of a monster, but of a simple and naked man. They did not recognize who it was but they were alarmed all the same. By then Jean Duhamel was long gone and making plans to cross the ocean to a new dominion of horror.

By the time Danny got home that day, he was tired and hungry. In fact he was famished and went straight to the fridge and made a meatloaf sandwich. He didn't even sit down, he just stood at the counter wolfing it down in five bites. He was washing it down with a glass of lemonade when his mother came into the kitchen.

"Danny what are you doing? You know I'm making dinner in an hour! I don't want you spoiling your dinner..." She was about to say something else but he cut her off.

"Don't worry about that, I'm still starving. But I'm going up to have a quick nap before dinner okay?" And with that, he squeezed past her as she was leaning against the door frame of the kitchen and made for the stairs.

Louise gave an exasperated sigh. She knew how teenagers were, she was raising four of them after all. They kept their own hours, did whatever they wanted and unless they were in very big trouble, didn't listen much to what their parents wanted. There'd been something on Danny's face she didn't like though. It wasn't guilt, or resentment, it had looked more like fear and those dark patches under his eyes were getting darker than ever. That's what was worrying her the most. He was normally so care free, but these days he wasn't his usual self at all. Ever since his friend Michael had died, Danny had been very serious and exceptionally quiet. She wondered if it would help if she found someone for him to talk to. Maybe they could start with the school guidance counsellor and just take it from there. He needed to get some of that stress off his chest. It wasn't every day that a teenage boy found one of his best friend's killed by a train. She worried for her Danny and made a mental note as she pulled the pork roast for dinner, to talk to Arthur about it. Her husband had always been a sensible and proactive man. He'd know. He'd know what the best course of action was for Danny. Best to nip it in the bud, before he became permanently scarred.

He threw himself on his bed with a dramatic whoosh of air from his lungs, lying flat on his back with his sneakers still on. He could hear music drifting in from Bobby's room, He was listening to The Cars, Panorama...it was a good song... and Danny closed his eyes. Within seconds he was dreaming.

The massive Boar was grunting and shifting it's weight, prepping for a charge. It was one of the biggest animals he'd ever seen in real life, that is without a fence, or barrier like at the zoo. Sure he'd worked with horses before, which were bigger than the Boar, but not by much. It was at least six feet long and four feet high. Horses were friendly too. This thing was in a murderous rage. It pawed the soft earth of the forest digging deep tracks with it's black cloven hooves. The thing was massive and Danny wondered just how they'd come face to face like this. He didn't want to have anything to do with it. He certainly didn't want to fight it, he didn't have any weapons, he didn't mean it any harm either. He just wanted to pass through the woods peacefully and yet here they were. He looked at it, with it's head lowered, snorting, angry slobber ran from it's mouth, silver stringers hanging down but not dropping. Just swinging from side to side, it got ready to gore him with it's razor tusks. "No!" Danny cried out. "I don't want this! I'm just passing through, easy now, easy there big boy..." He looked around frantically for somethin like a stick, a branch to use to help block the charge. Nothing.


It's gonna catch me.


I'm tryin', oh gawd I'm tryin'...but I'm not fast enough.

He's going to kill you. You know that right?

And that's when Danny realized it was the Boar speaking to him.

"He's going to kill you. He killed me and he's going to kill you too. You have to be fast. Faster than him. He tied me up out here and killed me. You too. Old and Ugly is coming for you."

And then the Boar was gone and Old and Ugly stood in it's place. He stood hunched over, eyes glittering darkness and the promise of death. His arms swung back and forth and he pawed the earth with rotten sneakers. Runners of spit ran from his mouth too and he grinned a silver snarl with pointed teeth... Run...run... let's go...come on...we're ready...it's ready...come down, it's ready...

He woke with a start. Soaked in sweat. He felt he'd slept all night, but his clock made from an old record on his wall said he'd only been napping for an hour and a half. It was only five fifteen. He heard his mother calling up the stairs, "It's ready kids!"

Then his brother Bobby as he walked down the hall past his room, "Dinner's ready Danny."

"Yep, I know. Be right there." Danny said, his voice all muzzy from sleep.

He palmed sweat from his face and sat up, stripping off his damp t-shirt and getting up for a fresh one. His legs felt rubbery and weak. The dream kept ringing in his head..."Run...fast...he's going to kill you." Oh man, that was awful. he hadn't had a bad dream like that in a long time. He pulled the clean shirt over his head and made his way downstairs, holding the railing all the way. When he sat at the table, his family was already eating. His mother looked up, a little furrow on her brow.

"Have a good nap Danny?" She asked.

"No." Danny said simply. "Nightmare."

"But it's daytime Danny! Dont'cha mean a daymare?" James joked and Bobby giggled around his mashed potatoes. Art looked up quizzically. Danny reached for the platter of meat and took two big pieces, his hands trembled.

"Where'd you go today Danny?" His father asked and before he could stop himself he told them.

"Back the tracks..." He almost clapped his hand to his mouth, instead he froze while reaching for the peas. Louise spooned some onto his plate for him. Kevin stared at him. Shocked.

"I think I'd rather you leave the tracks alone for a little while Danny." She said as gently as she could. She studied his face. The dark rings under his eyes seemed darker than before and his sweaty hair clung to his neck. "Don't you think that would be for the best?" Kevin's eyes bounced back and forth from his mom to Danny, to his mom, to Danny, to Art now. Art had stopped eating and cleared his throat as if about to say something, but a glance from Louise and he resumed eating again.

Danny looked up at his mom and said in a small voice. "Yeah sure, but..."

"No 'buts' Danny" She said.

Both James and Bobby giggled at this. Kevin delivered a a swift kick to Bobby's ankle under the table.

"Ouch!" Bobby whispered and passed it on to his twin James, who repeated, "Ouch!"

"Okay. No I get it mom." Danny said chewing his pork roast. Boy was it good! "You don't want me going back the tracks, cuz you think I'm spending too much time thinking about Mike, right?"

"Well that's one reason..." His mom started.

"We just don't know how safe it is." Art finished agreeably. "You're a bright boy Danny and we think you can find better things to do with your time too. Why don't you go fishing with Kevin or something?"

Danny nodded, stuffing another forkful of roast in his mouth. He drank some milk and said, "Okay."

"Yeah," Kevin said, "It's great at the pond. The bass are biting like crazy. I was using dandelions as bait today. They're going for anything that hit's the surface." He smiled at Danny. "We should go tomorrow! We'll dig up a bunch of worms."

"Just don't go digging in my garden!" Louise said.

And with that, they dropped the subject. Danny was still thinking though, as he finished everything on his plate but the peas...

That evening after supper, Art and Louise had a quiet talk on the porch about Danny. Well, Louise did most of the talking while Art smoked, occasionally nodding sagely in agreement. Meanwhile inside through the screen door, they could hear the boys laughing and watching something on T.V. At the end of their little chat, Art Ferguson snubbed his cigarette in a crystal ashtray and spoke. "I think it might be good for Danny to talk to someone about what he's going through. When I lost one of my closest friends back in '64 I crawled into a bottle for close to year before I managed to get my shit together. I mean, it couldn't hurt the boy any and if the school counselor won't do it, we'll just pay for it ourselves huh?" He looked at his wife and Louise heaved a sigh of relief and hugged Danny's father fiercely. By the morning though, those plans were put on hold. Danny had the flu. Or something that seemed like the flu.

It wasn't the dreams that woke him up at 3 am. It was a bad case of stomach cramps and he managed to make it to the toilet just in the nick of time before he was doubled over with what felt like hot broth bursting from his bowels. Just when he thought the worst was over, he felt his gorge rising and he snatched the waste basket up heaving, while his eyes streamed and rivers of sweat ran down his face. He puked long and hard, over and over again his stomach hitched and more came up and out. Finally when that was done, he sat gasping for air, shivering on the toilet afraid to get up, just in case.

He heard Bobby and James whispering to each other in the hall, then Bobby's footfalls on the stairs of the sleeping household and his brother calling softly for their mom. "I think Danny's sick."

James tapped lightly on the door and asked, "Are you okay Danny?"

"Yeah, it's okay James. I think I just have the flu."

"Bobby's getting mom for you." He said and Danny heard relief in his younger brother's voice. Even in his misery, sitting on the toilet with stomach cramps, with a wastebasket full of puke in his lap, Danny felt a fierce love for his twin brothers.

By the time he got cleaned up and his mom put him back to bed he'd stopped shivering like a drowned puppy, but he was weak and sore all over. Louise took his temperature and announced he was running a fever of 103. She brought him a couple children's aspirin and a cold cloth for his forehead to help break the fever. She sat on the end of his bed leaning against the wall reading until the fever broke and he fell back to sleep. He was up again puking two hours later, but managed to do it this time without waking anyone. The house was quiet and dawn was just starting to lighten the sky when he tip toed back to bed. All puked out and exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep and the dreams were awful. They were hard and fierce and filled with panic and fear. Always the same theme, running, but not running. Wanting to run, but freezing. Being told to run by the boar, but as soon as he'd turn to start, there he'd be, Ugly and Old sneering at him and swinging his arms from side to side. Like some stupid murderous gorilla. That was the worst part was it just kept playing over and over in his dreams. The boar. The old man. Run. Can't run. The boar again, this time flanked by mama deer and her two babies. Then just the boar's skull. Then it was the deer skulls floating around the boar's head, filling his ears with voices. Run. He's going to kill you. Quick! You have to be quicker! Old and Ugly swinging his arms... By now Danny was getting tired of not being able to do anything. Tired of the same old shitty dream and he was getting mad. Now in his dream he started staring the old man down.

"Fuck you Old and Ugly." He said in his dream. "Fuck off and die. I'm coming for you."

Ugly and Old just grinned viciously and swung his arms from side to side like a speed skater or something stupid. It was starting to really grate on him now watching him do that.

"I mean it you smelly old bastard. I'm going to kill YOU!"

The old guy's grin seemed to falter, just a little. That was enough for Danny though. Good for now and the fever that had climbed steadily since his last puke, broke again. The dream started to fade, growing softer at first and then seeming to unwind like a spool of thread. Exhausted, Danny fell gratefully into a deep and dreamless sleep. By the time he woke it was a quarter of eleven on Sunday. the latest he'd slept in a long time. His mom had already been up to check on him. Even Kevin had peeked in to check on his sleeping brother. At first Danny felt sore all over, but after he'd used the bathroom and washed his face, the soreness was beginning to fade. As were the nasty dreams from the night before. He made his way downstairs, surprising his mom who was in the dining room reading the paper from the day before. He noticed it as she set it down that she'd been reading an article about the mysterious murder of Julie Gifford.

"Danny what are you doing out of bed? How are you feeling?" She got up from the table wiping her hands on her apron.

"I'm good mom. I feel fine. A whole lot better than last night that's for sure!" Danny said cheerfully. "I'm starving though."

She raised her eyebrows and gave him an appraising look that only mothers specialize in. "You must of had a stomach bug, the twenty four hour flu, or something. I can make you some toast and get you a glass of apple juice, do think you can manage that?"

"Oh yeah, no problem. I feel great. Totally. Can you make some scrambled eggs too? Do we have any bacon?" He went into the kitchen to check out the fridge. She followed him in.

"We have bacon Danny, but maybe you should go easy on your stomach. You don't want to overdo it. You were very sick last night. Why don't you have some toast and juice first, then if you're still hungry after that, I could make you a scrambled egg."

He sighed and said okay, not wanting to push it. He knew she was just being cautious and he also knew it wouldn't do any good to argue. He'd show her just how hungry he was. So he sat down and washed the toast down with cold apple juice within five minutes of getting it. This time when he asked for the scrambled egg as well, he asked for two eggs and begged for some bacon, saying he was starving. It turned out they both ended up eating bacon and tomato sandwiches on toast and Danny had his scrambled eggs too. After their early lunch she looked in his eyes and gave him a tiny smile of relief. The dark rings under his eyes had faded considerably and his color had improved.

"I'm going to go sit on the porch for some fresh air." He announced. "Where is everyone?"

She held the screen door to the front porch open for him as he settled into the couch out there. "The boys have all gone fishing and your father should be back soon. He just went into town to buy himself a new model airplane."

Danny's father, Art, had a hobby of building model airplanes. Not just the little kiddie snap together kind. Art bought large scale models that had hundreds of pieces and he even painted them according to their proper colors, flags and decals. He even painted historical tail numbers on some of them. He took it seriously. His dad could sit there for hours consulting old photos and military books that he mailed away for, putting the planes together and painting them with lots of tiny details. When they were finished he hung them in a special room in the basement that he'd fixed up and called his 'Flight Control Room'.

When Danny was young he'd been content to just sit and watch his dad, as he smoked and meticulously fitted wings and landing gear to the fuselage of his model planes. When he'd gotten older he became interested in other things and didn't watch anymore. Today though, he figured he'd spend a little time watching his dad, who liked to go work on the porch in the sunroom on nice days like today. He was still pretty tired from the night before and yesterday's hike. Most of the clingy dreams started to fade as he sat out on the couch, smelling the musty fabric and listening to the birds. He could hear a couple lawnmowers going somewhere in the village and the neighbor's dog Alfie barking at something, probably a squirrel, maybe at nothing. He sat for awhile with his eyes closed, just absorbing the calm of the day. Then with eyes open, he watched bees and butterflies come and go in his mom's garden. He watched a little sparrow gathering some dried grass for a nest, then fly away with it in it's beak. Eventually his dad came home and Danny relaxed some more, watching his dad glue two halves of a wing together and making small talk. They'd opened the windows of the screened in sunroom to air out the smell of glue. Nothing was said about Mike or the tracks, or any of that. His dad was happy that Danny felt better and so was Danny. The day stretched out in healing calm and Danny went to bed early that night.


About the Creator

Jim E. Beer

I was raised outside of Ancaster, Ont. I write about what I know and what I've survived. I hope you enjoy what you read. Leave a comment and feel free to tip. There is an option to do so at the end of each story if you feel so inclined. Jim

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